By Jake Donovan
Adonis Stevenson was blessed with the honor of headlining the inaugural edition of Premier Boxing Champions series on CBS.
What he wasn’t blessed with, however, was a favorable matchup, fight date or ratings to match.
The reigning light heavyweight king cruised to a 12-round decision over Sakio Bika on April 4 in Quebec City, Canada. The bout was placed on the Saturday preceding Easter, and – despite being marketed as part of CBS’ NCAA Final Four coverage – without the benefit of actual Final Four play.
Both college basketball semifinal games aired live on TBS, TNT and truTV – to record ratings for those networks, no less. Meanwhile, PBC on CBS was inserted into the Saturday lineup without any protection, resulting in a 1.1 overnight rating according to Nielsen Media Research.
The rating computes to roughly 1.6–1.7 million homes, based on a formula of overnight rating times the number of available homes with TVs.
Sporting events tend to trend upwards, which means final ratings could come out higher. Barring a massive leap, however, Stevenson’s win over Bika is only a slight improvement from his last appearance on HBO, when he stopped Tony Bellew in six rounds in Nov. ’13.
The bout – which capped a Fighter of the Year campaign for the southpaw knockout artist – played to 1.3 million homes, though also came with divisional rival Sergey Kovalev in the televised co-feature. The intention of the card was for the two light heavyweights to move towards a head-on collision.
That showdown has yet to happen, for which Stevenson has been dealt most of the blame in the court of public opinion. It has reflected in subsequent performances for both fighters – Kovalev remains a draw on HBO, while Stevenson has yet to resonate with audiences on Showtime and now CBS.
A silver lining for Stevenson’s showcase win on CBS is that the event rated favorably compared to surrounding sports coverage among other networks during the afternoon. The only other event to rate higher was the 3rd round of the PGA Tour in Houston, whose 2.0 overnight rating was actually a 25% increase from its coverage in a similar time slot one year ago.
PBC on CBS was preceded by a college basketball All-Star game, which only drew an 0.7 overnight rating. No other event on any network on Saturday afternoon besides boxing and golf drew higher than a 1.0 rating on the day.
The win was Stevenson’s fifth defense of his light heavyweight crown. The bout was his first on free network TV, though the third overall PBC event to air since the series was rolled out in March on NBC in prime time coverage. Airings on NBC and Spike TV played to far more favorable ratings and reviews, although TV viewing on any portion of Easter weekend other than Easter Sunday itself has always proven to be a tough sell.
What’s next for Stevenson (25-1-1, 21KOs) isn’t immediately known. Efforts to get him in the ring with Kovalev have expanded to the World Boxing Council (WBC), who recognizes Stevenson as its champion and Kovalev as the mandatory challenger.
A purse bid hearing is scheduled for April 17, although an immediate clash between the two could prove problematic. Kovalev – who owns three other light heavyweight belts – is on the hook for a mandatory title defense versus Nadjib Mohammedi, with such a bout already targeted for a summer date likely to air on HBO.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox